Eric Olsen and Rocket Ismail fire up the fans


If you see any typos, please excuse them, as my hands are still thawing out. Just walked into the hotel after a long day but figured I’d give a quick update on the pep rally. For those of us who haven’t been back to campus in a few years, there has been a ridiculous amount of change to the university. The Eddy Street Commons are a goliath retail/residential/commercial development that have to be a godsend for students. (They have a Chipotle and Five Guys, so what more do you need?)

The performing arts building is also gigantic, and the new Irish Green is just a really big quad with a stage in the middle of it.

That was the site of the pep rally, which did an admirable job filling in for the JACC as renovations are getting finished. While the open-air environment certainly lets some of the energy sneak out, it was still a pretty great experience. A friend who is visiting Notre Dame for the first time spent more than a few dollars at the book store buying trinkets and t-shirts before taking everything in at the pep-rally. While it pales in comparison to the electric setting of some of the big ones at the JACC, Eric Olsen and Rocket Ismail did their best to get the crowd charged up.

Olsen had some of the best lines of the night, pulling out a copy of today’s Observer and calling out — by name, no less — the staff writers that picked against the Irish. Particularly earning Olsen’s scorn was Managing Editor Bill Brink, who gave the Irish no chance to win. (Congrats, Bill — it’s a nice feeling, right?)

If Olsen’s words were an appetizer, Rocket Ismail was the main course. Rocket had the crowd in a frenzy, as he stalked around the stage, bringing an energy to the microphone that hadn’t been seen in a long time. “This is not a game,” Ismail chanted repeatedly. He had the packed crowd look to their left and their right, each time repeating a manta to their neighbor. “Don’t flinch,” he’d yell. “Go and get it,” he’d chant. “Don’t flinch,” he’d repeat. “This is not a game…”

(Consider this the extent of every conversation I have tonight at the bar…)

Rocket had just about everyone ready to run through a wall — energizing a crowd that might have been growing cold as the night approached. Charlie Weis shut down the proceedings with a pretty great speech himself, and took offense to the fuzzy logic Steve Sarkisian used when analyzing the two teams playing tomorrow. (Anyone who would do that, is obviously a great mind...)

It’s very clear that the Irish expect to win tomorrow. I’ve been to plenty of pep rallies, and each time you hear similar sentiments that echo the bland rhetoric we’re all used to. But tonight, the members of the team and guest speakers Ismail and Joe Thiesmann all were clearly singing the same chorus: Tomorrow night, we celebrate an Irish win.

We’ll find out in 12 hours. 

Five Irish players sign UFA contracts

Matthias Farley
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Notre Dame had seven players selected in the 2016 NFL Draft, trailing only Ohio State, Clemson and UCLA on the weekend tally. But after the draft finished, the Irish had five more players get their shot at playing on Sundays.

Chris Brown signed with the Dallas Cowboys. Romeo Okwara will begin his career with the New York Giants. Matthias Farley and Amir Carlisle signed contracts with the Arizona Cardinal. Elijah Shumate agreed to a contract with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers.

After missing two seasons, Ishaq Williams will be at Giants rookie camp next weekend as well, working as a tryout player. Expect Jarrett Grace to receive similar opportunities.

Count me among those that thought both Brown and Okwara would hear their names called. Brown’s senior season, not to mention his intriguing measureables, had some projecting him as early as the fifth round.

Okwara, still 20 years old and fresh off leading Notre Dame in sacks in back-to-back seasons, intrigued a lot of teams with his ability to play both defensive end and outside linebacker. He’ll get a chance to make the Giants—the team didn’t draft a defensive end after selecting just one last year, and they’re in desperate need of pass rushers.

Both Shumate and Farley feel like contenders to earn a spot on rosters, both because of their versatility and special teams skills. Shumate played nickel back as a freshman and improved greatly at safety during 2015. Farley bounced around everywhere and was Notre Dame’s special teams captain.

Carlisle might fit a similar mold. He played running back, receiver and returned kicks and punts throughout his college career. With a 4.4 during Notre Dame’s Pro Day, he likely showed the Cardinals enough to take a shot, and now he’ll join an offense with Michael Floyd and Troy Niklas.


Robertson picks Cal over Notre Dame, UGA

Demetris Robertson

Demetris Robertson‘s decision wasn’t trending in Notre Dame’s direction. But those that expected the Savannah star athlete to pick the in-state Bulldogs were in for a surprise when Robertson chose Cal on Sunday afternoon.

Notre Dame’s pursuit of the five-star athlete, recruited to play outside receiver and hopefully replace Will Fuller, likely ended Sunday afternoon with Robertson making the surprise decision to take his substantial talents to Berkeley. And give credit to Robertson for doing what he said all along—picking a school that’ll give him the chance to earn an exceptional education and likely contribute from Day One.

“I am excited to take my talents to the University of California, Berkeley. The first reason is that the education was a big part of my decision. I wanted to keep that foundation,” Robertson said, per CFT. “When I went there, it felt like home. Me and the coaching staff have a great relationship. That’s where I felt were the best of all things for me.”

Adding one final twist in all of this is that Robertson has no letter-of-intent to sign. Because he’s blown three months through Signing Day, Robertson merely enrolls at a college when the time comes. That means until then, Kirby Smart and the Georgia staff will continue to sell Robertson on staying home and helping the Dawgs rebuild. Smart visited with Robertson Saturday night and had multiple assistant coaches at his track meet this weekend.

Summer school begins in June for Notre Dame. Their freshman receiving class looks complete with early enrollee Kevin Stepherson and soon-to-arrive pass-catchers Javon McKinley and Chase Claypool.

Sheldon Day drafted in 4th round by Jaguars

North Carolina v Notre Dame

Former Notre Dame captain Sheldon Day didn’t have to wait long on Saturday to hear his name called. The Indianapolis native, All-American, and the Irish’s two-time defensive lineman of the year was pick number 103, the fourth pick of the fourth round on Saturday afternoon.

Day was the seventh Irish player drafted, following first rounders Ronnie Stanley and Will Fuller, second round selections Jaylon Smith and Nick Martin, and third rounders KeiVarae Russell and C.J. Prosise.

Day has a chance to contribute as he joins the 24th-ranked defense in the league. Joining a draft class heavy on defensive players—Jalen Ramsey, Myles Jack and Yannick Ngakoue already picked ahead of him—the front seven will also include last year’s No. 3 overall pick Dante Fowler, who missed the entire season with a knee injury.

Scouted by the Jaguars at the Senior Bowl, Day doesn’t necessarily have the size to be a traditional defensive tackle. But under Gus Bradley’s attacking system (Bradley coordinated the Seahawks defense for four seasons), Day will find a niche and a role in a young defense that’s seen a heavy investment the past two years.

Smith, Martin, Russell and Prosise all drafted Friday night

INDIANAPOLIS, IN - SEPTEMBER 13: William Fuller #7 of the Notre Dame Fighting Irish and Nick Martin #72 of the Notre Dame Fighting Irish celebrate a touchdown during the game against the Purdue Boilermakers at Lucas Oil Stadium on September 13, 2014 in Indianapolis, Indiana.  (Photo by Michael Hickey/Getty Images)

Jaylon Smith, Nick Martin, KeiVarae Russell and C.J. Prosise were all selected on Friday, with four Irish teammates taken on the second night of the NFL Draft. As mentioned, Smith came off the board at pick 34, with the Cowboys gambling on the injured knee of the Butkus Award winner. Nick Martin was selected at pick 50, joining former teammate Will Fuller in Houston.

The third round saw Russell and Prosise come off the board, with Kansas City jumping on the confident cornerback and the Seahawks taking Notre Dame’s breakout running back. It capped off a huge night for the Irish with Sheldon Day, one of the more productive football players in college football, still on the board for teams to pick.

Here’s a smattering of instant reactions from the immediate aftermath.